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Why Spectacles will succeed.

By Callum McCahon

Last week, Snapchat became Snap Inc — ‘a camera company’. Synchronously, they unveiled Spectacles — ‘a totally new type of camera’. A pair of sunglasses with built-in video cameras, that will share what you see with the world.

I’m extremely impressed by them, and I think they have a strong chance of succeeding where others have failed.

Here’s my reasoning…

The positioning is genius.

Evan Spiegel has been very clear that this product is being positioned as a toy — “to be worn for kicks at a barbecue or an outdoor concert”.

This light-hearted, unassuming attitude is typical of Snap (and is a big reason as to why they’ve had so much success with the younger demographic), but don’t let it affect your judgement of how serious Spectacles could be as a piece of technology.

Think about this as a ‘counter-positioning’. Wearables have so far been extremely serious — and heavy on the tech.

Snap are approaching wearable tech from a completely different angle — it’s a bit of fun. A laugh. If it takes off, then great. If not, no sweat.

This is refreshing, and represents the antithesis of the ‘revolutionary innovation’ that Google Glass promised. Of course, Glass never managed to break out of the Silicon Valley echo chamber.

Take a look at how Snap describe themselves in their ‘one-liner’ on TechMemes:

Snap don’t really see Spectacles as a toy long-term. This is the prelude to a serious idea. It would be a big mistake to write off Spectacles because they’re not positioned as ‘serious’ tech.

Chris Dixon’s blog from back in 2010 titled “The next big thing will start out looking like a toy” is looking pretty poignant right now.

It has a clear function.

Why would you buy Google Glass? It was talked about as an “optical head-mounted display” that “displayed information in a smartphone-like hands-free format” — with the mission of “producing a ubiquitous computer”.

OK, but what would I actually use it for?

Compare that to Spectacles, which have a clear and focused usage case — to take and share what you’re seeing with the world. And that’s all it does.

Glass looks inwards, serving information to you and no one else. Spectacles look outwards, taking information from you and sharing it with everyone else. Which is the more social technology? Which feels more…human?

Fashion first, tech later.

The key rule of wearable technology is that you will need people to feel comfortable wearing it. It needs to look good. Seemingly obvious, but you’d be surprised.

Steve Horowitz is the man responsible for Spectacles, and all of Snap’s future hardware efforts. He gave a very telling interview to SlashGear back in 2014: “If you want to appeal to a segment beyond the technologists, you have to be able to appeal to the aesthetic.”

That’s exactly what Snap have done here.

Above are the press shots for Spectacles and Glass. Which pair would people actually feel comfortable wearing in public? Which pair prioritise aesthetic over technology? Which pair can you imagine real people actually wearing?

Historically, technology progresses in small increments. Big leaps are uncommon because they make people uncomfortable. This is a key reason as to why Glass failed to hit the mainstream — they were too different. They looked odd.

Spectacles don’t seem like such a big leap to me. They’ve added in a little bit of technology to a fashionable pair of sunglasses. Small increments.

The price point.

Spectacles will be retailing at the £100 mark. Google Glass retailed at £1000.

At £100, Spectacles have a real shot at penetrating beyond Silicon Valley. The price makes them accessible — and reinforces the positioning as a toy.

People will be far more likely to take a gamble on a £100 purchase, and it puts Spectacles in the same bracket as a FitBit, or Apple’s AirPods. It also puts them in the same ballpark as a good pair of sunglasses, which is important.

Spectacles are affordable — wearable tech for the masses. I’m predicting they will be featuring on a lot of christmas lists when December comes around…

…And if they flop? It was just a toy, sold at £100. On to the next experiment.

Snap can shape behaviour.

Benedict Evans made a great point in his most recent newsletter:

Snapchat is blithely transgressive of tech industry assumptions — it does things that shouldn’t work, and tries to shape behaviour where Facebook measures and follows.

This is extremely true. Snap have a strong track record of shaping original behaviour:

  • Ephemeral messaging
  • Stories as a way of creating and consuming content
  • Vertical video
  • Filters and lenses

Snapchat created these features (and due to their success, shaped behaviours) from scratch. That’s true innovation.

There’s a reason Snap base themselves in Venice. Silicon Valley is often criticised because it is out of touch with real people — building solutions for problems that simply don’t exist outside the Valley.

Snap have a history of building technology that real people love worldwide, and that’s why I trust what they’re doing with Spectacles. They’re attempting to shape the behaviour of the masses, and why can’t they once again?

With Spectacles, we start to understand a bit more about the long term vision for Snap. It’s not to build the world’s best messaging app. It’s not to create the biggest social network.

It’s to pioneer the way we communicate with each other.

Communication in 2016 is visual. We use photos and videos to talk to one another. Snap understand this, which is why their new tagline of “a camera company” is so important.

If Snap can seize control of the hardware we use to take photos and videos (Spectacles and future products), and the software we use to share (Snapchat Messaging, Stories) and organise (Memories) them, then they have as good a chance as any at owning human to human communication moving forwards.

And who would bet against them?